We know little about the macroevolution of life-history traits along environmental gradients, especially with regard to the directionality compared to the ancestral states and the associated costs to other functions. Here we examine how age and size at maturity evolved when Lestes damselflies shifted from their ancestral temporary pond habitat (i.e., ponds that may dry once every decade or so) to extremely ephemeral vernal ponds (ponds that routinely dry completely each year). Larvae of three species were reared from eggs until emergence under different levels of photoperiod and transient starvation stress. Compared to the two temporary-pond Lestes, the phylogenetically derived vernal-pond Lestes dryas developed more rapidly across photoperiod treatments until the final instar, and only expressed plasticity in development time in the final instar under photoperiod levels that simulated a later hatching date. The documented change in development rate can be considered adaptive and underlies the success of the derived species in vernal ponds. Results suggest associated costs of faster development are lower mass at maturity and lower immune function after transient starvation stress. These costs may not only have impeded further evolution of the routine development rate to what is physiologically maximal, but also maintained some degree of plasticity to time constraints when the habitat shift occurred.
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